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Dangerous Dogs Act

The Dangerous Dogs Act is a piece of legislation which sets out a number of dog breeds and types which it is generally illegal to own under the belief that they are more likely to cause harm to people than other dogs.

The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 proscribed certain sorts of dog so that its owners only had a certain amount of time to make possession of them legal. That period of time has now has expired.

This law applies to these dogs:

  • Pit Bull Terrier
  • Japanese Tosa
  • Dogo Argentino
  • Fila Brasileiro

The most common dog that has been the subject of cases has been the pit bull terrier. Having a pit bull terrier type dog that is not registered is illegal, and by possessing this dog you can be prosecuted.

If you think that your pit bull type dog is not registered, you cannot voluntarily register the animal as there is no application available any longer. Even if you do have a pit bull terrier that is not registered then the dog will probably not be put down, however. You must prove that the animal is not a danger to the public, when proceedings are brought against you by the Police, Council or RSPCA etc. It can then be added to the Index of Exempted Dogs, which is maintained by DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).

DEFRA statistics revealed under the Freedom of Information Act shows that between 2007 and 2009 there were 911 dogs that were put on to the Index of Exempted Dogs.

Is my dog legal?

  • Read the DEFRA guidance on the identification of illegal dogs to ascertain whether your animal is considered a pit bull.
  • Get a vet’s opinion of the type of dog, but be aware that not all vets are trained sufficiently for this task. You could also ask the opinion of a show judge if you know one.

If the police think that that your dog is a pit bull, it is likely that that your dog will be taken and will stay in a kennel until the case is finished.

It is important to note that, under the law, prohibited types of dog are described as being a pit bull "type" - not simply a purebred pit bull. This means that a decision must be made on the physical attributes and sometimes the behaviour aspects of a dog to decide whether it is prohibited or not.

It has been decided by the High Court that for a dog to be a pit bull type, it must have a substantial amount of the relevant physical attributes. These attributes are named in lots of places, but the most comprehensive is the American Dog Breeders Association's Basis of Conformation for the American Pit Bull Terrier. This describes the ideal, and so the dog does not have to match in every characteristic to be seen as a pit bull type.

DEFRA has also written guidance which shows some of the physical aspects of a pit bull terrier. Currently there is no DNA test that can be performed which decides if the dog is considered a pit bull, so it is decided on its physical attributes. A cross breed or mongrel is also judged purely on their physical looks. The High Court has ruled however that the behavior of a dog is relevant but not conclusive when working out whether or a dog is a pit bull.

If it is discovered that your dog is of a prohibited type, the court will make a decision as to what will happen. If your dog is seen to be dangerous, it may be put to sleep; if not, then it may be placed onto an exempted list and certain restrictions imposed upon you.

The conditions of owning a pit bull aside from having it registered is that it be neutered, tattooed and micro-chipped. The dog cannot be bred with another dog, and cannot be sold, exchanged, advertised or given away. It has to be muzzled whenever in a public place as well as kept on a lead, and cannot be looked after by anyone under the age of 16. You must also take out insurance to cover the possibility of your dog injuring someone.

If any of these conditions have been breached then it will be deemed a criminal offence, which will lead to financial penalties and the dog being put under the presumption of being put down as well.

The harshest penalty you could face for illegally possessing a dog of this nature is a fine of £5,000 and/or 6 months in prison.

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